Solid State Drives (SSD) in recent years, have become increasingly cheaper making them affordable to the general consumer. Although SSD’s have been around since the 1950’s, they have until now, remained outside mainstream retail computing. This is mainly due to their high price and low capacity compared to conventional Hard Disk Drives (HDD).
The most prevalent difference between the two technologies is the SSD has no moving parts unlike the current HDD’s. Instead of using a series of rotating platters read by an Actuator arm (kind of like an advanced version of a turntable) the SSD uses a series of NAND Flash memory to store data, similar to USB data drives and most storage cards. This gives them the highly desirable attribute of operating in near silence.
The fact that SSD’s have no moving parts brings several advantages over conventional HDD’s. The first being increased portability as they are less cumbersome and can be made extremely small like those found in smartphones and tablets. They require less power to operate sometimes using as little as a third of what HDD’s use. Having an increased shock resistance and a higher temperature tolerance again adds to the portability and enables the use of such devices in areas and situations previously thought unsuitable for HDD’s. Many military organisations have adopted SSD’s for equipment used in the field for these reasons.
Pushing aside the physical advantages of SSD’s, the even greater benefits come when comparing performance. Currently, the average HDD data transfer rates will peak at around 100 – 150 megabytes per second depending on the interface, whereas SSD’s average about 500 megabytes per second. Some of the PCI-Express modules can yield rates of 1000 megabytes per second. Other important characteristics include the minute data access times of 0.1ms (milliseconds) compared to 12ms from a 5200rpm HDD, some 15000rpm HDD’s can have access times down to 2.9ms providing the data is not fragmented.
This brings us to the problem of having to defragment HDD’s to ensure access times remain as low as possible, a time consuming exercise that can’t be avoided as the data will be physically stored on different sectors of the platter. Fragmentation does not affect SSD’s.
Although SSD’s will not fail mechanically, they do have a limited life cycle. Each block of a flash-based SSD can only be erased (and therefore written) a limited number of times before it fails. The controllers can manage this degradation, extending the life to many years under normal use. Firmware bugs are currently a common cause for data loss.
The most common form factor for SSD’s are the 2.5” versions with Serial ATA connectivity. Laptops and netbooks also use this form so an SSD would an ideal and easy upgrade. Many come with a 2.5” to 3.5” adaptor bracket for use in desktop computer cases that wouldn’t usually accommodate a drive that size. The host interfaces of most SSD’s are common with regular HDD’s, consisting of Serial ATA, PCI-Express and USB.
I recently installed an OCZ Vertex 3 SSD in my system, the improvement over my old 10000rpm Raptor HDD is incredible. It boots windows in under 15 seconds, and is ready to use as soon as the desktop appears. Usually, I would have to wait at least 3 minutes (sometimes even longer) for the HDD to be finished loading the operating system and any start-up programs.
When looking to upgrade to an SSD, as far as manufacturers are concerned, reliable and trusted memory retailers are a safe bet, Corsair, OCZ, Crucial and Kingston are all well respected in the industry. For me, the one to look out for is OCZ technology. They are offering great deals on their current Agility 3 series of SSD’s which are surprisingly affordable.
Quite possibly the main reason would come down to OCZ’s recent acquisition a company called Indilinx, a company that provides controller architecture for NAND Flash based storage. Almost all current SSD’s use the “Sandforce” controller made by LSI Corporation, OCZ have created their own controllers to be used exclusively in their products. “Everest 2” being the latest addition to their portfolio used in the Vertex 4 line. These Two important factors will enable OCZ to produce SSD’s with reduced cost and offer top of the line products, at least for the time being.
At the moment, the main downside to SSD’s is the price per GB (Gigabyte) of storage, coming in at around £1 a GB. Conventional disks can be sourced for as little as Five pence per GB, this is a huge gap and still puts many consumers off if they are in need of a high capacity drive. However, due to competition and supply increasing, we should see a steady drop in price per GB as we did with HDD’s. Overall, I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to increase performance, installing an SSD is a major milestone.